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Tech sector split over Brexit deal

The draft EU Withdrawal Agreement has caused rifts in the tech sector, with some calling for a People’s Vote with the option to remain in the EU, and others wanting MPs to back the agreement, saying it’s better than a no-deal scenario

The UK tech sector seems to be split on whether or not to back the prime minister’s draft EU Withdrawal Agreement, with widely differing opinions.

The 585-page draft agreement, which was backed by Cabinet Office ministers on 14 November, is the “the only solution on the table that can deliver on the outcome of the 2016 referendum while also securing jobs and investment in UK tech”, according to Julian David, techUK CEO.  

His comments came yesterday as he called for members of Parliament (MPs) to support the agreement, adding that it wasn’t a perfect deal, but infinitely better than a No-Deal Brexit scenario. His comments, however, were not echoed by everyone.  

TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher took to Twitter to highlight that the tech industry he knows does not support the Withdrawal Agreement. 

As part of his response to the techUK comments, he has launched a campaign calling for the tech industry to sign a letter supporting a People’s Vote, with the option to remain in the EU.  

The letter, which according to Butcher has already gained 500 signatures and supporters, including Doteveryone chair Martha Lane Fox, said the tech industry has serious concerns over Brexit.  

“It is our view that the government’s ‘Withdrawal Agreement and Political Agreement on leaving the European Union’ will not serve the best interests of the UK tech industry. It will vastly increase friction in trade with the EU and impose significant and costly changes for the tech industry,” the letter said, adding that Brexit is “a dire threat to the UK tech industry”.

“Leaving the EU’s customs union, single market, Digital Single Market, VAT area and regulatory framework (in whole or part) will tear apart the bedrock on which our industry operates and cause us grave harm,” the letter said.

“Brexit is already causing serious uncertainty, raising costs and threatening future red tape. Post-Brexit, our products and companies face the real risk of becoming hard to create, fund and distribute globally, especially in the vast market of the EU.”

Following the criticism techUK CEO Julian David received on Twitter following his original comments, with several people in the industry saying his views did not represent them, he today issued a statement explaining why the industry body is backing Theresa May’s deal.

“We have been very clear that No Deal is a potential catastrophe for member businesses ,and resolving uncertainty is paramount given that there are only 130 or so days to go. Therefore, in consultation with our members, we made a very clear decision to support the proposed withdrawal agreement which can resolve the uncertainty and avoids the risk of a no-deal disaster,” he said.

“We recognise the agreement is not perfect and it is also not in itself a future trade agreement with the EU, but it does contain a number of positions and proposals that can build to one. It is also the only proposal that is currently on the table.”  

David added that techUK is speaking on behalf of hundreds of small and large companies, all faced with “taking hard business decisions as we approach the deadline for the UK to leave the EU”.

Despite most of techUK’s members being remainers, and Brexit was not what they wanted, “at no time since the referendum have our members called for us to campaign for a new vote”.

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